To be or not to be…
At the ground when your team gets a pummelling…or watching from the safety and anonymous comfort of your couch?
Advantages of being at the game are the camaraderie and shared anguish of fellow sufferers, and there's always the possibility of a memorable, humorous comment by aforesaid fellow sufferers to leaven the gloom.
Being at the ground, you can at least see the patterns of play and, depending on your strength of character, make an optimistic appraisal of what that seemingly aimless kick was trying to achieve. (It may have looked to all the world like a grubber that went five metres, but perhaps being there, you would appreciate it was actually an audacious attempt to hit one of our forwards on the chest; it was just unfortunate that it hit an ankle and went out of bounds on the full).
There were, however, quite a few reasons to be thankful not to be at the match this week: it was cold. It was wet. It was in Adelaide. We sucked.
All things considered, being on the couch was the better option. But when you lose, it can be agony.
Watching more than an hour of footy where we only score a point seems even more prolonged and dreary on television (and of course, you have helpful commentators, happy to update us, minute by painful minute, at just how long it’s been since the Dogs stirred the goal umpire into action). The close-in camera-work only highlights what's becoming already the story of this season: that we are, at best, grinders who painfully accrue possessions, but seem to have lost sight of the fact that these possessions should result in a goal.
In fact, we could scrap the in-depth Monday statistical analysis, frame-by-frame video review, and GPS data and stick to what Bulldog Tragician observed: Our whole team seemed to be always around the ball. And when it came out, we didn’t have anyone to kick it to.
It reminded me of an under-9 football match that my son played at Hoppers Crossing. Anchored on the last line of the forward line of a losing team for 95 per cent of the game, any expectation that the ball would come his way had long since evaporated. When it finally did dribble ever so slowly in his direction (pursued, rather comically, by 30 or so muddy teammates and opponents) he’d forgotten that this was a possibility, and was, instead, engaged in some delicate blind-turning and pretend baulking of an imaginary opponent.
Despite our enthusiastic yells of encouragement, my son was unable to switch onto the idea that there was a real, live possibility of scoring a goal. The Dogs on Sunday were very much of that ilk. When I saw Liam Jones fall over in the goal square trying to evade an opponent that wasn’t actually there, my son’s efforts came vividly to mind.
But there was something else going on yesterday, and it's the reason that despite our dismal efforts I still wish I’d been there - the debut of Jake Stringer. I don’t remember a young recruit whose arrival has been so eagerly anticipated at the club, maybe because he’s what we’ve been crying out for over so many years, even when we were at our peak in 2008-10: a forward.
His fellow debutant Jackson Macrae looks skinny, wide-eyed and baby-faced. I'm reminded of Bob Murphy’s quip at his own expense, that in photos when he was drafted he looks as though he hasn’t yet gone through puberty. His skills remind me of Bob’s too, elegant and precise. There are promising signs in a lovely snap for goal. But a lot of the time he looks a bit lost, as you’d expect from an 18 year old first-gamer thrust into a slogging, grim contest.
But Jake, the man-child, has a body made for footy. He looks poised; he isn’t afraid, straight after his first mark, to play on immediately and curl the ball around his body to a team-mate. Something about him makes him look as though he’s the real deal.
There have been many false messiahs for the Dogs, many great white hopes that look the goods before fading into trivia questions.
Our last champion forward, Chris Grant, snuck under the radar in his first ever game, as low key and unassuming as he was throughout a wonderful career. Fans were rustling through Footy Records, trying to find out more about this scrawny kid from Daylesford. He was 17, kicked four goals, and just kept marking the ball. Martin Flanagan called him, beautifully, ‘the boy with the solemn hands.’
It was a game against St Kilda, the first, emotional match at our ground since the failed merger. Just like Sunday, the Dogs got thrashed.
Chris went on to play 341 games for us and a goodly proportion of them were the best I’ve ever seen from a player in the red, white and blue. I was there that day to see a champion make his debut.
My son, (the little boy from the Hoppers Crossing match), was at the Adelaide match yesterday. He ended up cold, wet, frustrated and dis-heartened, but maybe one day he’ll be able to say he was there the day Jake Stringer played his first ever game.
About the Bulldog Tragician
The Tragician blog began in 2013 as a way of recording what it is like to barrack for a perennially unsuccessful team - the AFL team, the Western Bulldogs.